Healthcare in remote areas is still experiencing fundamental problems, including lack of equipment and shortage of doctors and professional staff.

A survey of 63 provinces and cities by the Ministry of Health last year revealed that some district hospitals had only six to seven doctors and medical clinics had from one to four. The doctors are not dispersed rationally, the survey found.

It also showed that most commune medical clinics had only about 60 percent of the necessary equipment.

Lo Van Khanh, Director of the Nam Nhun District Medical Clinic in the northern mountain province of Lai Chau, said that the shortages meant that it could not meet residents' demands.

Nam Nhun clinic was even using workers' houses at Lai Chau hydro-electric plant as its head office. Medical staff had to use old equipment moved from other parts of the province.

Khanh said Nam Nhun district had more than 90 doctors, but there was a need for about 200.

Muong Khuong district in northern Lao Cai province had similar problems. Po Chin Cui, head of its medical clinic, said the district had 16 commune medical clinics. It also had 100 commune-based medical workers and more than 200 village-based (smaller units) ones, but did not have a doctor.

Doctor Nguyen Van The, Director of the Mu Cang Chai District Medical Clinic in northern Yen Bai province, said that in the past five years, the district had assigned more than 10 medical workers to study for medical degrees, however, only four later agreed to return and work in the district.

The doctors did not want to work at grassroots-level because they felt working conditions and pay were unsatisfactory.

He said that while most districts needed basic equipment, some had such things as ultrasound devices and heart scanners, but they had been placed in storage because no one had been trained how to use them.

Deputy Minister of Health Pham Le Tuan suggested that salaries for medical workers, especially doctors, should be higher because they needed to spend at least six years studying for a degree, whereas other careers took only four or five years.

He also felt that medical workers should also be supported with seniority allowances.

Director of the Lai Chau Department of Health, Nguyen Cong Huan, said that the provincial health sector would invest in upgrading infrastructure and buying modern equipment for obstetrics, paediatrics and mental-health care.

He said the department would also create good conditions for medical workers to study new technology at universities and central hospitals.-VNA